Why skills training might replace higher education
In a recent discussion in one of my WhatsApp groups focused on entrepreneurship, an article published in the Harvard Business Review, titled “Why Skills Training Can’t Replace Higher Education,” was posted. This stirred a healthy discussion, with some members against the idea of skills training and favoring higher education, while others favored skills training and believe that higher education will be phased out. If you followed my last two articles, you would have read that the trend is actually to phase out higher education in favor of skills training.
As an educator and former university professor, I am not happy with this trend, but I can understand why it is happening. In higher education, it takes a long time to change and accredit a university program that we think is new, while the business world is fast-paced and changes rapidly. It has been hard for higher education to keep up, so I cannot blame large companies, such as Amazon, Google and IBM, for shifting from a focus on higher education graduates to skills knowledge/training when recruiting.
Let us be honest, we chose to go to university in order to eventually get a good job. But if companies now are looking for skills, then why should students spend time and money to get a university degree? This is a hard choice, but like it or not, it is going to be a reality within the next five to seven years.
Having said that, I remember a question that my PhD supervisor at UCL Institute of Education asked me years ago in one of my supervision meetings. David asked me why students try hard to get accepted and attend top Ivy League universities compared with any university? I was surprised by the question and, for once, did not have an answer. There was a silence in the room before David finally answered his question by saying: “You get an education in Ivy League universities as well as any university. The difference is the friends you make in these Ivy league schools.” Not sure if you agree with David or not, but I dwelled on his answer and still continue to dwell on it to this day.
If we analyze David’s response to his intriguing question, going to an Ivy League university is mostly about the journey and the friendships you make with those who might one day be a president or a prime minister of a country — and not only the end result, which is getting a degree.
On the other hand, skills training is about the end result, which is getting a job, and not the journey. I guess this is a highly simplified way to say, if you want a job, then your best bet is to go for skills training; but if you are about the journey, then your best bet is to go for higher education and especially an Ivy league university.
I think the question that we should be asking ourselves now if you are a high school student, are you more concerned about the journey or the end result? Either way, it is a choice that we will be faced with within the next few years, so think about it and choose wisely.
Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj is a best-selling Saudi author, an international public speaker and an entrepreneurship mentor.